Marco Mendoza is in the enviable position of promoting two albums—his third solo record, Viva La Rock, released in March, and the Dead Daisies’ latest offering, Burn It Down, released in April. Although the timing may seem auspicious, the 55-year-old says there wasn’t much forethought in releasing both records in quick succession. “There’s no rhyme or reason to me,” he admits. “I go with whatever’s flowing.”
Professionally, that flow started back in 1989, when Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward tapped Mendoza to play on his debut solo album, Ward One: Along the Way [Capitol]. Since then, Mendoza’s resumé has grown to include Blue Murder, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent, and Black Star Riders. When not on tour, he can be seen performing on his fretless 6-string around his hometown of Los Angeles with his Latin/jazz/funk trio featuring drummer Joey Heredia and keyboardist Renato Neto. He released his first solo record, Live for Tomorrow [Frontiers], in 2007 and followed that up in 2010 with Casa Mendoza [Mascot], which showcased his more eclectic jazz and funk influences as well as his Latin roots. With Viva La Rock, produced by Danish guitarist Soren Andersen, Mendoza returns to his rock roots, even covering classic Thin Lizzy and Ted Nugent songs.
The Dead Daisies entered Mendoza’s life in 2014. Burn It Down marks his third record with the band (it’s their fourth overall), and he says it’s a natural fit for him. “The cool thing about the Daisies is, because we’re a little older and we’ve been around the block a few times, we’ve learned how not to do things. We’re all very good at keeping our egos in check—it’s a beautiful thing, man. It’s a family and we’re a team. We have a plan, and we’re moving forward.” If you live in the States, you’ll be able to catch the Dead Daisies on their summer tour, which begins August 15 in Cleveland. We checked in with Mendoza on an East Coast press junket. Though he was without any of his baggage, he was ready to viva la rock.
Did you head into the studio for Viva La Rock with finished songs?
I brought sketches. Soren and I talked about it a month ahead, and we said, “Let’s not finish any songs—let’s just bring ideas and see where it goes.” The moment we sat down in front of each other in the studio, “Viva La Rock” came together. Within two hours, that song was down, and we felt there was a vibe. The next day we wrote a couple more songs. We just connect so heavily and creatively, and the cool thing with Soren is, he knows me. We’re just like a couple of teenagers writing down ideas. He respects my vision, which is refreshing; you capture somebody’s essence when you let them drive a bit.
The album subtly incorporates a few of your other influences.
There’s a little funk and R&B in there. I started out playing rock & roll, and I’ll be doing that for the rest of my life. The other stuff comes in as an ambition to stretch out as a bass player and singer. I have strong roots in Latin American music and all the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms. I love jazz fusion. I’ve been talking about doing a bass instrumental album for years, but that would be completely and solely a passion thing, because there’s no business on that side—I live off this. I’m raising a family, so I have to think about them. I have to work, man.
What was your method of tracking bass on Viva La Rock?
Because of the lack of time, and knowing what a great mixer Soren is, we went direct. I used my ESP signature bass. It was re-amped through an Ampeg Heritage SVT, which added some of the bottom end and natural tone. We had only two weeks, so we cut to the chase and went into the studio and did the work. It was about the songs. The tone and the technical stuff comes after, which is what’s so great about Pro Tools.
What do you look for from an amp in terms of tone?
I’m so old school I don’t have a lot of the technical things that I can tell you. When you plug in and play bass and hear the tone and tight bottom, midrange growl—with the fretless there’s a big midrange growl thing—that’s important. And I’m a wattage guy for headroom. I believe in having more headroom than necessary for tone and air. I love punching that air.
How does the writing process differ in the Dead Daisies?
When you have one guy writing and a producer backing you up, you can move quickly and find your goals and your direction. But I’ve never been a solo artist—I’m very social. I need to be around other cats and other people that create music. I think there’s something very special and magical when you get three or four or five guys in a room and write songs together.
You are all in one room when the writing begins?
We all bring in ideas and throw them in the middle of the table, and Marti [Frederiksen], the producer, picks and chooses, finds the direction, and homes in on being a little more focused. When we got together in New York in November we had close to 25 ideas, so we whittled those down by deciding what direction we wanted to go in. On this album we decided to go on the heavier side. It’s just a natural place for us to be. The riffs are monstrous, but at the same time they’re simple, which is what makes them heavy.
You have a new battery-mate in the Daisies with Deen Castronovo [Journey, Ozzy]. Does that influence your approach to bass lines?
Of course. It’s a different drummer, so it’s a different approach. Anytime you change anybody in the mix, it’s going to create a different dynamic, so you adjust. But Deen and I have done at least three albums together already, with Soul SirkUS and Neal Schon. He’s a great musician. He approaches music not as a drummer but as a musician—there’s a difference. He plays for the song. For me, as a bass player, when you have a killer drummer, it just makes life so much easier, and everything you play makes sense all of a sudden [laughs].
Marco Mendoza, Viva La Rock [2018, Target Group/Mighty Music]; the Dead Daisies, Burn It Down [2018, Spitfire]
Basses ESP LTD MM-4 Signature Series Bass
Rig Ampeg Heritage SVTCL head, Ampeg Heritage SVT-810E cabs
Strings D’Addario EXL190 long-scale nickel
Picks Planet Waves white pearl celluloid (heavy)